What if I want to be unoriginal?

So I have been watching some authors I greatly respect (Stephen Granade and Emily Short and others) on Twitter talking about “the good old days” when people were hashing out how to solve problems in IF that had never been solved before, and trying new things, and breaking ground in new directions. And lamenting that some of that feeling of camaraderie has been lost since so much has already been done and tried and discovered.

I’m not new to IF exactly, but I’m very new to writing games Honestly, not well versed in every IF game that came before. I know some of the big names. I know what Curses! and Photopia and Horse Master and With Those We Love Alive are, and grew up on Infocom.

What if the game I want to write is really “old well-covered ground”? Because I just like that sort of thing.


Sorry. Not allowed. :stuck_out_tongue:

I’d actually say the majority of IF, especially parser games, doesn’t attempt to break new ground. And that’s not a slight, that’s just what it is, and that’s fine. In order to break new ground you need to first tread the old ground, right? Once you’re comfortable with that then you can start testing the boundaries.

In fact, I think the best games only break new ground because their idea expands beyond what has previously been done, rather than trying to come up with a new gimmick and then sketch up some game that exploits that gimmick.

But either way, I say that you should write what you like. That’s the most important thing. If you like it then someone else is bound to like it as well.


I read that as people lamenting the loss of the camraderie, and proposing the excitement-of-trying-new-things having died down as part of the reason for that loss. I don’t think anyone was trying to say that following well-trodden paths isn’t perfectly fine in its own right…

Edit: Also, major tangent: I think one big way that people are different from each other is in how much change/novelty they like in their lives: some people need a lot of variety and find it stifling to be doing the same thing repeatedly, others like a lot of stability and find change stressful. I feel like the world is in a place right now where the people who like a lot of change are more visible.

We have a small family farm and we take in volunteers over the summer: we get a lot of college kids who need lots of change and are out to do and try everything. They tend to be so far on the one end of the spectrum that they can’t even imagine someone liking it any other way. I’ll tell them about my uncle who has his own small business that he could probably move anywhere with a year or so of work, but who likes his routine so much that he has rented the same house for over 30 years. And often our volunteers won’t believe that that’s even possible: there must be something I’m missing or not telling them. And I think that’s kind of sad that they can’t see beyond their own noses.

Which is all a long rambling ranty way to say, hey, people are different, and it doesn’t make your preferences less valid because they’re not the same as a person or group that happen to fall somewhere else on the spectrum.


Yeah, that’s how I read the conversation too. Speaking as someone who wrote and released a pretty traditional parser game last year (I think one of the reviews said it felt Infocom-y) to a positive reception well above what I think it really merited, I very much doubt you’d find anyone disapproving of you making a game covering well-trodden ground just because of a lack of novelty, especially if it’s your first game (heck, even many authors who’ve written a bunch of games often stick to the classics).


Then you’ll be told that (Short/Plotkin/Cadre/Jota/insert/other/top/20/legends/here) did it better. No big deal, it’s just what happens.

It’s also a well-documented and easily-observable phenomenon that creative exploration in your 20s feels a lot different than it does in your 40s. I can’t speak for the main protagonists of that discussion (although I’m pretty sure I’m right about the ages) but I can attest to feeling that personally, and observing it in the work of musicians with a long track record, etc.


I was part of that discussion. What you have to remember, for context, was that the “good old days” were twenty years ago. There has been a lot of IF since then. Nobody’s saying it was bad or boring or unoriginal.

There was a particular community spirit on the RAIF newsgroup in the early days. Of course it didn’t last twenty years unchanged; that couldn’t happen. Even if all the same people were still on a common forum, we wouldn’t be the same.

In any case, it’s not a matter of “everything having been done”. More like, it’s not all being done in one coffeehouse any more.


I can count on two hands the number of parser games that are as long, polished, and fun as Anchorhead or Curses. Of those games, there’s only one or two of each genre and several genres not represented at all.

If you made a game like that, it wouldn’t matter if people had done it before, it would still be awesome to play. That’s pretty much what Chin Kee Yong has done with The Weight of a Soul in this Spring Thing.

I don’t see being groundbreaking as the primary attribute that makes IF valuable, although I appreciate it. In contrast, I see all IF as both:
-a performance or illusion, something that gives the appearance of unlimited choice or power or an escapist fantasy, but which is just a collection of clever tricks, like a magician, and
-a gift; I think of all IF as sharing a piece of your soul with someone else.

So from my point of view, your game is successful and worth making if it you share your heart with those who play and if you can trick them into believing it’s something greater than it really is. It’s like this quote from The Prestige:

You never understood… why we did this. The audience knows the truth. The world is simple, miserable, solid all the way through. But if you can fool them, even for a second… then you can make them wonder. And you get to see something very special. … You really don’t know. … It was the look on their faces.


Playing old games, I’m still amazed at the stuff people were doing in the second half of the nineties. But that’s old news. You just be as unoriginal as you please. If it’s any good, I’ll happily play.


I would say that, please, add your tears, guts, and blood to the mix.

Games about well-known genres are ok, but I would prefer if they has something of you, the things you fear, and the things that you love. :wink:

Also, you don’t have to do this at all, of course.


There’s experimentation, and there is taking a proven formula and honing it to perfection. And both of those activities are totally valid. In fact, there’s a lot more that is valid too – wanting to tell this story, wanting to work out this particular puzzle mechanic, wanting to write a game that runs on some old hardware platform, writing a run-of-the-mill game because you want to get some experience writing your first IF, and so on, and so forth. Do what works for you!

(I’m currently working on what one could call my least innovative game ever and having fun. :smiley: )


We were younger! Bold and brave.

Jokes apart. That spirit came in the proper times. We can see the same thing in the communities that came after, like the Twine revolution, from 2008 to 2013 (or something), or now with the Bitsy and Flicksy one.

For the rest of us we have now integrated in the videogames industry, so the most interesting things are being done by pros, like Inkles, Failbetter, the Visual Novels space, and of course the AAA and AA space. So, that is. Now to be participant in that feeling one must see videos of GDC and go to Gamasutra, and of course keeping up to date with what Jon Ingold is doing! XD

Oh! and the Procedural Guys, of course.


It’s my view that there are huge frontiers of IF yet to be explored and developed.

One of the problems with “the old days” is that IF and IF systems were heavily constrained by what computers of the time could actually do; lack of memory, lack of CPU, lack of graphic capability, lack of storage etc. etc.

For example, i think choice and parser are just two points of a spectrum of diverse inputs that could be accommodated. I don’t see why they cannot mix.

In addition, the overlap of narrative and graphic visualisation needs to be explored. What is the ideal way to mix words and pictures, and what is the best balance?

I’d certainly like to see more diverse systems and IF experiments undertaken. Personally, i think there’s a lot to be done.


They’ve been mixed since… not forever, I’m sure, but when I made hybrid games in 2006-2007 (The Baron and Fate both use a lot of choice-based conversation within a parser framework) it was certainly nothing new!

Excellent! That’s a great example of how to mix choice and parser. More games should do this.

I have another idea where choices with blanks are presented and the player can type in blanks from the keyboard. Kind of structural choice/parse.

Something else i want to try, is using choice in a parser game to eliminate the archaic NESW compass directions;

I’m thinking of trying this for ParserComp, but the idea is; instead of having to mention what is, say “north” or “east” of here all the time, the narrative talks in unconstrained terms, say “further down the road is a grassy field” while a corresponding choice allows you to “go to the field”.

Not a great example, but you get the point. No more artificial compass points in favour of navigational choices + a graphic map. It could be a lot more natural.

1 Like

Nord and Bert did something like this a million years ago. The places you can go are listen in the statusline, and you can type one of them to go there. Still parser-based, but it didn’t bother with compass directions.

1 Like

I don’t think I’ve got any spectacular additions for this topic, but it’s important to not back out of being unoriginal.

Ultimately, any good artist has to push past the gauntlet of ideas they’ll be subjected to, like, “You’re working in the wrong genre” or “You’re working in GENRE!” or “There’s enough music in the world already” or “Only groundbreaking stuff is good”. Even if you personally happen to agree with any of these particular ideas, you’ll still have to ignore the ones that would prevent you doing work in the field(s) you want to work in.

If you’re new at coming at being an artist (and therefore have no assessment of whether you are, or are going to be, any good) you shouldn’t waste any time trafficking with these ideas. The beginning is the time to ignore all of these kinds of streams of information and potential historical baggage and simply do some work you want to do.



Colossal Cave did this two million years ago. There was some sense that the original game was meant to run on typing room names, and compass directions were a hack for when that didn’t work. (Not to restart the compass direction debate.)

Right. There have been many of these but they get centrifugally flung apart into separate cauldrons. Which is a shame in one sense, but in another sense necessary.

(Footnote: Twine appeared in 2009 but The Revolution started 2011-ish.)


If you try to make a game about escaping from Atlantis with the aid of your trusty letter-remover, then yeah, someone will tell you that Short did it better. But the concept of IF in general is not played out. People are making cool new things all the time because they have new stories to tell. Don’t die on the hill of “people will like my game because I did a new technical thing” and forget the fiction part.


Jon Ingold agrees with you: https://twitter.com/joningold/status/1379891008830369795?s=19